Alejandra, a transgender Salvadorian activist held in immigration detention in the United States, was released on 6 September 2019.
Alejandra fought for transgender rights for more than a decade in El Salvador. She was forced to flee to the United States after repeated attacks by a criminal gang, as well as abuses by the Salvadoran military.
Alejandra was then detained at the Cibola County Correctional Center in New Mexico for 20 months, where she reported inadequate medical care.
Authorities unfairly denied her requests for parole five times and at one point, Alejandra faced imminent deportation. In August 2019, Alejandra’s lawyers filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus on Alejandra’s behalf, arguing that her prolonged detention violated protections against indefinite detention under the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment.
In response to the habeas, Alejandra was released!
“Through letters of support, people from around the world gave me the strength to continue in this struggle that was so hard for me. I’m here to keep fighting.”Alejandra
The campaign for her release was spearheaded by Amnesty International, the Translatin@ Coalition, National Immigrant Justice Center, and dozens of members of the United States Congress.
Seeking asylum in the United States
President Trump’s administration has implemented immigration policies that have caused catastrophic harm to thousands of people and appear to be aimed at dismantling the American asylum system.
Fuelling these policies of cruelty with discriminatory and demonising rhetoric, President Trump and his cabinet members have routinely called asylum seekers “criminals,” and denounced international standards on refugee protection as legal “loopholes” and “magic words.”
In 2017 and 2018, the government implemented an official policy of mandatory and indefinite detention of asylum seekers, without parole, for the duration of their asylum claims.
Indefinitely detaining people seeking asylum constitutes arbitrary detention, in violation of both American and international law.
The authorities have leveraged the agony of prolonged detention in order to compel people seeking safety to “voluntarily” give up their asylum claims, and accept deportation.
Inadequate conditions of detention, including routinely substandard health care, has also contributed to peoples’ anguish and, in some cases, to their deaths in immigration detention facilities.
As recently as August 2019, trans women detained in Cibola County Correctional Center have reported that they are not being given access to adequate health services including food, water, and hygiene services, among others. The women have said that they are not being believed or given the necessary medical treatment.
How did Amnesty respond?
Almost 7,000 Amnesty International Australia supporters took action calling that Alejandra be granted parole while her asylum case is considered.
Our colleagues at Amnesty International USA presented these petitions, along with thousands of their own, to Immigration and Customs Enforcement calling for Alejandra’s release.
Alejandra’s journey isn’t over – Amnesty will continue to support her during the adjudication of her asylum claim.
We’re calling for a fair assessment of Alejandra’s asylum claim, as all people seeking safety in the United States should receive. We also remain concerned that Alejandra’s life is at great risk if she is denied protection and returned to El Salvador.
“People have the right to seek safety from persecution. There was no reason why Alejandra should have been locked up for seeking protection. Alejandra’s story is not an isolated case, there are many more trans people seeking asylum in the United States stuck waiting for months in detention centers where they are at risk of ill-treatment because of their gender identity and medical needs. It is cruel and unnecessary for U.S. immigration authorities to detain people fleeing to the U.S. in search of safety from persecution and violence, including brave women like Alejandra” says Denise Bell, researcher for refugee and migrant rights at Amnesty International USA.
“Alejandra’s story is not an isolated case, there are many more trans people seeking asylum in the United States stuck waiting for months in detention centers where they are at risk of ill-treatment because of their gender identity and medical needs.”Denise Bell, researcher for refugee and migrant rights at Amnesty International USA